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Amid racial tension at Oak Park high school, letter threatens violence

Oak Park-River Forest High School officials notified parents of a planned student walkout on Wednesday. | Facebook

Oak Park police will step up patrols after a letter threatened violence during homecoming festivities at Oak Park-River Forest High School, where a social media post and the suspension of a popular black teacher already have tensions running high.

In a letter Friday to parents, students and staff, District 200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams wrote: “This afternoon the high school received an anonymous letter via regular mail, threatening violence during tomorrow’s homecoming dance.”

School officials immediately contacted Oak Park police, who are working with authorities to determine the credibility of the threat, Pruitt-Adams said in the note.

Parent also were notified Friday afternoon via a automated phone calls playing a recorded message.

Joylynn Pruitt-Adams | oprfhs.org
Joylynn Pruitt-Adams | oprfhs.org

The school plans more police and patrols around the campus, around the clock through Saturday’s dance, scheduled for 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the high school fieldhouse.

The letter “did not mention race, and we have no indication that this threat is connected to events surrounding the racially offensive social media post earlier this week,” Pruitt-Adams wrote.

In that incident, a student was suspended for posting a racially insensitive photo of himself on Snapchat, and Anthony Clark, a popular teacher who is a political activist and congressional candidate, was suspended for reposting the photo online.

Anthony Clark | Facebook
Anthony Clark | Facebook

In response, the Suburban Unity Alliance, of which Clark is a member, has started a petition for his reinstatement and staged “a voice for all” march Saturday morning.

According to the petition, the white student “posted a racist selfie in blackface, with a caption mocking the black students” of the school’s Black Leaders Union.

“The image was soon proliferated widely … inflicting repeated harm on students of color,” it said.

The school district initially posted an announcement on its website Oct. 10 by the superintendent that it was “made aware of a racially offensive social media post circulating among the school community. We share the hurt and dismay that this action has caused our school community. We take such matters extremely seriously and are investigating.”

In response to the post, Clark “brought the photo to a local support group online, focused on equity and diversity (a conversation that gave us space to reflect on values, parenting, and the pain caused by blackface),” the petition read.

Clark, a candidate for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., was asked to “facilitate, offline, restorative justice steps to mend the harm done to the black students.”

When he realized the photo depicted a current student, Clark took it offline but was suspended by the school; officials there cited the school’s social media policy of not posting students’ photos without their permission.

But that policy “gets violated regularly, including by coaches and staff who post photos of kids,” the petition states. And it says the parents of the student who originally posted the photo “were in support of Clark’s actions.”

In an interview Wednesday with the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park nd River Forest, the student, a 17-year-old senior, apologized for the post.

“I want to make sure that everyone knows how I feel, that I’m very regretful and would love to learn from this experience,” the student told the Journal, adding that he doesn’t consider himself a victim. “People’s anger is justified. I did not check my white privilege. I did not think about what I posted. There’s no excuse. I did this, and I take responsibility for my actions.”